Tag Archives: read-through

Mists of Avalon Read Through Chapters 4-17

I’ve managed to work through a good portion in the last few days.  The advantages of having very little on day time TV and no boxes to be put away, I suppose.  Managed to get to chapter 18 of part one by the time of this posting.  Let’s see what has happened, shall we?

Recap: Vivian, the High Priestess of Avalon and the Merlin of Britain have come to Cornwall to tell V’s sister, Igraine, that she’s going to bear the kid who will unite Britain.  Seeing as how she’s 19 and currently married to the Duke of Cornwall though, she has some issues with this. Especially since the father of this son is supposed to be Uther Pendragon.   She is told to find a way to get to the “court” of Ambrosious and Uther, and that’s that.

Chapters 3 through 8 finish setting up the rest of the story.  We meet Uther, Lot, Abrosious (for the chapter and a half he’s alive), and get to spend some time with the good Duke before we start to hate him for how he treats Igraine.  Igraine and Uther start falling for each other, which makes sense, when you think about the fact they are far closer in age than the 19 year old Duchess and the 49 year old Duke.  Gorlois accuses Igraine of sleeping with Uther after the funeral of the High King, and he takes off into the night, withdrawing his troops with him.  This leaves Uther with far less protection than he needs against the Saxons and a lot of fights and battles happen all over Britain.  Gorlois is out fighting the Saxons around Cornwall, and Igraine is a basic captive in her own castle.

Then comes the story we all know and love: Uther, disguised as Gorlois, comes to the castle, woos Igraine–not that it takes much–and takes her to bed.  From that one time, Arthur is going to be born.  Gorlois’ body is brought back the next day before Uther can leave. Well…better get married quick!  Arthur is born, Uther dislikes Vivian, and Igraine starts to decide that Christianity isn’t all that bad after all, leaving a giant rift to form between her sister and her.

Eight chapters of exposition later…the story can finally begin.  Morgaine is sent to live with Vivian on the Holy Isle of Avalon to learn how to be a priestess at age 11.  Arthur is sent out to foster around that same time, he’s about 6 or 7. We don’t hear much about him, nor do we hear a lot of Morgaine’s training.  Bradley uses a chapter change to suggest the passage of time, with a comment from Morgaine’s “spoken” interludes that “it took nine years to train as a priestess”.  When the story picks up after that, she’s a full priestess.  Small suggestions about what she might have learned are sprinkled here and there, but nothing overt, and there are no mentions of “classes” she took, or detailed instances of what went on.

This is a great way to keep the story moving.  So often, authors will think they need to give every little, last detail about something.  I know that I am guilty of it myself. But being able to gloss over it with smooth mentions of experiences or “she had done this many times”, the story moves along faster, and readers are less likely to put the book down for being boring.  In a book this size, it’s always a good thing to cut out as much unneeded information as possible.

so…  Merlin brings the news that Uther is dying.  Vivian “Sees” him die with her magic and his shade comes to visit her.  We discover they were lovers in an earlier life, something which depresses V, as she never got to know him well in this one. Arthur has to be crowned as new High King, as he is the only heir.  But the People of the North (Tribesmen and the Celts and others such as them) won’t accept “A Roman” as their King.  Vivian and the Merlin set up a trial for him that hasn’t been performed in many years: the running with the deer as the Horned God.

Morgaine is selected to be the Priestess to oversee this Hunt…and to be with the Horned God as a representation as the Goddess if he succeeds in defeating the King Stag of the herd and not dying.

Neither of them realize who the other is until too late. It makes for a very awkward Morning After.

The poetry written into the words as the Horned God goes on his hunt, the hints of the ecstasy that Morgaine is feeling due to fasting, herbs, and ritual behaviors…  It really draws the reader in, and you’re hoping that the Horned God is not killed by the King Stag.   No words are spoken here for a number of pages, and the story is carried out through actions and descriptions alone.  There is a thought that writing should be like painting.  Here is just one of the few, beautiful paintings in this story.

Morgaine carries her fury towards Vivian the next chapter and a half, as the Lady knew who she was sending her niece and priestess to be with.  It’s a near cold anger, and it written in detail enough that the emotions are clear and realistic, but given enough temperament that they don’t go over the top.  I’m often the sort who tends to go over the top with writing any emotional type of scene.  It’s something I’m working on.

Kevin the Bard is introduced, and it is revealed that he is being trained to be the next Merlin, even as Morgaine is being trained to be the next Lady.

Chapter seventeen ends with Vivian asking for visions of the future and the consequences of her actions from the Goddess.  There’s an intense amount of fear that the readers bear witness too, that she will be unable to continue to rule and watch over Avalon for the time it will take for Morgaine to be ready to take over. Even seeing these few visions drains her, a new experience as they never used to.

And that is where I am at now.  Overall, these chapters finished setting up the characters and the world in such a way that was interesting enough to make it easy to get past the exposition.  The wonderful skill of “use chapter breaks to delineate time passage” is used to great effect, as is keeping the audience in suspense as who masked characters might be–in the case of Who is the Horned God.  Well written, description prose is used to great effect and is quickly becoming a mainstay of Mists.


The Mists of Avalon by Marion Zimmer Bradley

After finally finishing all of my unpacking from the Great Move of 2011, I saw that some of my books had gotten lost in The Great Bookshelf In the Sky.  One of these books was one of my favorites, The Mists of Avalon.  The next day, I happened into a resale shop and saw it on the shelves. This is a book that seems to just like to travel around.

It’s a fitting statement for this book, I feel.  It encompasses the entirety of  the Arthurian Legend, but does it from the eyes of the women involved in the story.  It’s one of Bradley’s best loved books, and likely the one she is best known for.

So what makes a Best Seller?  Is it just the fact that a book comes out at just the right time, when the world is ready for a story like it?  This is certainly the case for a certain, seven book series about a boy wizard and his friends.  But Arthurian legend has always been being retold.  Perhaps it was the fact that it is the first major retelling of it (that I know of, anyway), to look at Arthur in a new light, and make the main characters supporting characters, and the characters at the edges of the myth are brought into the center?

Whatever the case, it’s a good book to learn from whether you write history, mystery, or religion, fantasy, sci-fi, or reality.  It’s a thick book, and creates life-like characters, a setting that is so real you can feel the mists around Avalon curling around your face, and emotions so powerful that by the time Arthur dies–as you know he will–you’re on the edge of your seat and wondering how it’s all going to get better.

So I’m starting something new.  Rather than hold off on book reviews while I try to finish this monstrosity, I’m going to endeavor to read at least 3-4 chapters a day, and then post my thoughts on them every so often.  It’ll be a breakdown by chapters of how things work, learning from a master of her craft.  Think of Mists as a sort of textbook.

Without further ado, here are thoughts on chapters 1-3 of Part One.

Part One starts off with an introduction of sorts.  Morgaine is speaking to us, telling us that this is her tale, from her perspective.  As the first chapter finally begins, we meet the main character for this section, Igraine, the wife of Duke Gorlois.  What I really enjoy about this first chapter is the setting that is so nicely drawn for us, without it just being a drop of information.  Igraine thinks on how the sea is eating away at the land more every year, giving us the knowledge that Cornwall is on the sea, and far enough away from her husband that she thinks of him when staring out at that ocean.  The sudden introduction of the Lady of Avalon, Vivian, and the Merlin of Britain bring home the point that this castle is not near anything that resembles civilization.

These first three chapters are paramount to establishing main characters and locations.  Some people are named, others are not.  The ones that we know are going to be important in the future though are the ones we spend the most time with.  By getting this knowledge out there as soon as she is able to, Bradley can concentrate on really forcing the tale to take on a life of its own, and to start moving forward instead of being muddied down in exposition.

One of the best used methods for drawing in the readers is the use of language. There is a very lyrical prose that is used, and when the characters speak, it’s not our normal English that is used today.  All words are very proper, even when just being thought.  This serves the purpose of forcing us to realize that this a world that is several centuries removed from our own.  A bit jarring at first to get used to, yes.  But eventually, the rhythm of reading these words takes over our minds, and when we look up next, a half hour has passed without notice.

Drawing in an audience to this degree is a hard trick to pull off, and Bradley does it masterfully.

The big theme in these three chapters so far seems to be Igraine’s thoughts on the differences between Christianity (here, the “new” religion), and the Old Ways, the followers of the Goddess and the Great Mother.  I don’t really want to expound on this too much as I don’t want to spark a religious debate in the comments.  Suffice to say, it’s well done, and it is clear that research has been done into these topics and how people would react to the changing times.


So there you have it, chapters 1-3 of The Mists of Avalon.  We shall see how far I get during breaks at work tomorrow, and I hope you’ll all enjoy this series.  If it is something that works out, I might start doing it with other books that I’m reading.



Cover art photo from amazon.com